from JOB SLUT

Chapter 15

Hellians

 

From my previous service in restaurants, I came to recognize the natural ebb and flow of the biz.  Much like the farmer prepares for periods of famine during times of plenty, the seasoned server acknowledges that there will be $20 nights along with the $100 nights.  Still, I took with a grain of salt the admonitions of my server sisteren [sic] to prepare for the drought that would strike come summertime.  In spite of Doris’s business savvy, and attention to all the fancy renovations undertaken to make the place prettier, she was too stubborn to improve the air conditioning.  Plopping down a five-spot in a sweltering pizza joint is one thing, but who would care to spend $40 in a restaurant only to inadvertently season their meal with their own sweat?

“I can handle,” I thought at the time, “a pay cut.  I would ride it out until I could reap the harvest of the fall.”  I did not anticipate that I would be served with a pay gash.  Upkeep of my car, rent payments, and, of course, my appetites, became impossible.

Joanne had offered to let me move in with her for a small amount of rent money, thereby solving my transportation problem.  I demurred for obvious reasons.  Erin and Wally had been making bets on, if I did take up lodging there, how long it would be until we slept together.  Wally had gone with two days, while Erin had enough faith in my restraint to make it a week.  While not attracted to Joanne, in reality the correct answer probably would have been “six hours.”  (Because of the aforementioned biting incident, I would probably refuse oral sex were the opportunity to arise.)

Unknowingly, I had developed a routine on Sundays—usually my sole day off—that would plant the seeds for landing a new job.  After a day of steady drinking, I would make my way to the restaurant and bar across the street.  Erin recorded The Simpsons and other programs for me, but that show was always my dessert in the game room after a good, hearty meal.  Restaurant work had depleted any enthusiasm I once had for cooking my own food beyond typing a couple digits onto my microwave keypad.

The good-natured bartender was always flummoxed by my initial drink order:  A glass of milk, a coffee, and a beer.  I would later follow this with some shots of whiskey to fortify my alcohol quotient.  To his credit, he had an original quip each time.  Something along the lines of “You must hate your stomach,” or “I’ll bet you were the kid who mixed the wrong shit in chemistry class and set off explosions.”

The Silver Dollar was owned by Paul Hile, my first boss at the grocery store whom we met early in this book.  He had given me my first shot as a waiter in my early 20s, but I was pathetic at it at the time.  He had the good sense to fire me, and I felt like I was the designated recipient for whatever rage he had stored up.

We nonetheless maintained civil relations whenever our paths crossed in the intervening years.  He seemed to have calmed down since my last employment under him.  He was amazed when I told him, during one of my Sunday visits, that I was not only a waiter at Lloyd’s, but quite a good one.  As the due date for my car’s sure-to-be costly inspection approached, not to mention my indebtedness to my landlord, I realized I needed to do something.  I looked to this establishment as a resource to be tapped.

I applied for and was hired by Paul at his less classy, but more steady, restaurant.  I would piece together four $5 tips rather than make that easier occasional $20.  I would be working for a former hellraiser whose family I had a long history with.  While going to work, apart from any sounds that may emit from my own body, I would no longer have to ask with alarm, “What’s that strange noise?”  For all intents and purposes, my car would become a repository of whatever I may need to retrieve that I had left in there the final time I parked it in my spot.  All in all, life seemed bound to become easier and less stressful.

 

* * *

 

Granted that waiting tables is stressful in the immediate sense, it’s a largely inconsequential form of stress.  Everyone in the field has screwed up orders at times, spilled something on a customer, or accidentally farted while taking an order (or maybe that only happens to chronic beer drinkers like myself).  But no one has ever starved to death under my watch, and if they’ve gotten food sickness it was most likely not my fault.

Provided one has not made an erroneous enough mistake to warrant termination, the stress typically dissolves shortly after finishing one’s shift.  The closer the bar and the faster the intake of alcohol, the better.  And a particularly taxing shift should mean that one has more money to console them.  I will concede that, while drifting off to sleep at night, I have occasionally jerked up and thought something like, “Shit!  I forgot that girl’s applesauce at Table 6!”  To this day, I have recurring nightmares that I can’t keep up with my workload at a restaurant, even if I only have two tables going on.

If the anxiety of my daily 90 minute round-trip commute to Lloyd’s had meant that I preferred to unwind through relaxation, the greater ease I was now enjoying entailed the opposite.  It was like I had an excitement void that now needed to be sated.  And I now had more time to fill it.  “Let’s get this party started, brother!  Let’s throw some shit on the fire and watch that motherfucker burn!”  It was the sort of inborn desire for excitement that led my redneck forbears to invent cow-tipping and mailbox-smashing.

I started running with just the type of crowd that also sought out primitive excitement.  During “respectable hours,” the one bar in particular—the other one I had brought Erin to—was on par with my new restaurant, albeit in a smaller version.  At night, the boss tacitly encouraged the semblance of a wild club scene.  Breasts were flashed by patrons and barmaids alike, people danced on the bar, fights erupted, and one of my wild buddies brought his pet python in the one night.  When I foolishly let it slip that I was afraid of snakes, he chased me with the creature, to the point where I ran outside and about a block down the street before he relented and promised he wouldn’t put it around my neck.  Mischief-maker that he was, he later did that exact thing half an hour later when I had let my guard down.

This being redneck land, the nightlife scene at this joint bore an un-ironic retro ambiance.  Here it was circa 2003, and AC-DC provided a considerable portion of the soundtrack.  The dance floor filled up whenever the music called for the Macarena or glissading to the electric slide.  Anthropologically, I was fascinated by the somewhat united choreography of a dozen or so people in these moments.  To me, true dance is free expression, and I value the aesthetics of a group dancing at a Phish or Allman Brothers show while largely avoiding collision.  But if some needed to follow prescribed movements and steps to physically express musical appreciation, at least that was something.

Yet I had no qualms about being the lone one up there.  If I felt like dancing, well by gum I was getting on the dance floor.  In fact, one of my life’s missions is apparently to be the dance initiator in such circumstances.  I have a knack for breaking the ice; at some times, I will get up there alone, only to be joined by 10 others within a minute.  I’m a terpsichorean trailblazer.   

I nearly accidentally started a mosh pit once at the place.  They played “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor,” a song that I could not care less for.  Still, every time the chorus came around, I would throw myself to the ground.  Whereas normally my role as dance starter draws out the women, this time a bunch of dudes came on to the floor and came close to starting said moshing, but it stayed under control.

            Years later, I ran into one of the guys who reminded me of the incident when the jukebox played that song.  “I’ll bet you’re too old for that shit now, right?”

            “Buy me a pitcher and you’ll see.”

            He obliged and I performed, waking up the next morning a little sorer than I recalled that last time.

 

* * *

 

The earliest I would have to work would be 11:00 AM, and there were of course other hellians for whom the bar’s closing time came too early to declare bedtime.  Some of us would occasionally proceed elsewhere to drink our beers-to-go and liquor-to-steal, maybe get high, but invariably engage in some form of drunken track and field.  An out of the way spot would be ideal, but we opted to play in plain sight.  We partied in the town square, the most conspicuous place possible to conduct our fracases.  I don’t know if the cops respected or possibly even feared this clique, but they largely left us alone.  The sternest they ever treated us was to request that we “please” keep our beers out of sight and our decibel level down.

            As for the athletic events, the most common was hacky sack.  It was gender-inclusive and noncompetitive.  It appealed to the love of free-form expression that drove me to a skateboard or to vigorous dance.  Yet I also love physical contests with delineated rules that yielded definitive winners and losers.  A typical one might involve a triathlon of a race to the mailbox and back, a jump of the bushes, capped by 20 push-ups.  The girls refrained from this category of antics, instead acting as referees.  A dogma of some AA-ers is that one’s emotional maturation is stalled at the age that one first “picks up.”  If they’re right, one could easily surmise that our lot had been drinking out of spiked juice boxes on the playground during recess.

            The one time I chickened out of such festivities, it involved too much fun with carts.  Instead of brazenly blazing some reefer in the square, the one night we retreated to my back parking lot.  When Wild Bill—the guy who had chased me with the snake—found a stray shopping cart, his brother Tommy triumphantly declared, “Let’s do Jackass stuff!”

            I was amazed at the eagerness of the girls to jump in and entrust their well-being to the crazed chauffeurs who were determined to do something outlandish.  All it amounted to was Tommy and Wild Bill racing around real fast and making sharp turns.  The girls simply had to abide by the unwritten expectation that they proclaim “Weee!”

            The astute wild one sensed my hesitancy to participate.  He accordingly picked me up like I was a ragdoll and put me in the cart.  I saw the zealous abandon with which he’d raced the girls around, but I felt he had something more hard-core in mind for my ride.  He was now warmed up, and there was also an ongoing certain low-level hostility between us.  I feared this endeavor could easily turn into a Challenger.  I bailed out just as he was picking up speed, toppling the cart and producing a healthy bruise on my elbow.

            “Man, if you had just trusted me you would have been fine.  Now look at your fucking arm.”

            He may or may not have been right, but I could not be faulted for not entrusting Wild Bill to live up to his nickname while I was his passenger.

 

* * *

 

I had the most raucous fun with such members of my peer group, but my favorite duo to roll with was with some of the “older kids.”  We enjoyed a more sophisticated, more cerebral form of revelry.  Randy was the kitchen manager where I worked, and was therefore in somewhat of a supervisory position over me.  His brother Rob, whom I openly called “the one-eyed Muslim,” had lived a real wild life.  He’d lived in the Badlands of Philly, a dope addict shacking up in abandominiums with hijacked electricity.  I never asked, but I inferred that his messed up eye was acquired during some sort of drug-related scrap.  He was a genuine lollapalooza, one of the very few on the planet who had both made the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Fifth Pillar of Islam) and shouted, in a boisterous redneck bar, “I love this fucking Garth Brooks song!”

            Typically, our trio would hang out at such bars.  I might drink my ten drinks, Randy his seven, and Rob would get all hopped up on caffeine.  In general, the diverse assortment of friends I’ve acquired over the years had one core component:  A wicked sense of humor.  One of the reasons I found Rob so scintillating was that he was one of the very few people I’d ever met who never said, “You went too far with that joke, my friend.”  

Hypothetically, let’s say you could take the offensiveness of a Holocaust joke, one about 9/11, and, for good measure, a barb about sex with one’s mother’s corpse.  Rob was of the ilk for whom it was impossible to arouse an “ick” response.  Rather, he’d wrack his brains trying to one-up you with something more tasteless.

            I recall that the only other place we would venture would be my place, a true adventure for those unaccustomed to filth and squalor.  If it was awkward enough for Randy going back to my trashed apartment to get high with a work subordinate, a funny situation arose the night the two used their criminal know-how to help me splice into my neighbor’s cable.  I would pay “Crackhead Steve,” as he was known by some, a little money each month for the privilege.  I knew Crackhead Steve well enough to know that speed was his real game.  What he didn’t know was how lucky he was that I had enough scruples to refrain from sticking it to his wife when I had the chance.

            And Crackhead Steve certainly knew Randy; he had once worked under him and been fired by him for theft.  He didn’t know Rob, though, so his paranoia led him to ask him to swear he wasn’t a cop.  Randy and Rob laughed condescendingly.  “That’s a bunch of horseshit that a cop is gonna’ really tell you because he’s quote ‘supposed to’,” Rob pointed out.  “We know cops back in Philly that told us they never follow that rule.  And why would a cop waste his time with petty shit like this?  I guess I could be a Comcast cop, and who knows what rules they’re supposed to follow?”

            Not wanting an argument to kill my craving for the cable I had gone without for a couple years, I quickly sought to quell the tension.  “Fuck, Rob, you couldn’t even qualify to be a Keystone Cop.”  Even Steve joined us in our laughter.  I was able to watch South Park that night without being dependent on anyone for the first time in a while.

 

* * *

 

“Where’s Rob been lately?” I asked Randy the one day once the lunch rush had subsided.  “If we go the mountain bar tonight I’m sure he’d have the balls to do some karaoke.  Cat Stevens would be appropriate for obvious reasons.  He could get creative with it, like, ‘I’m being swallowed by a riptide, ript’—”

            “He’s out in Philly doing God knows what.”

            “Peace upon His name.”  (I confused my theological terminology with that utterance.)

            “He’s, uh, let’s just say, ‘Off his medication’ and leave it at that.”

            “Roger Dodger,” a phrase I had appropriated from Erin, just as others had found my call of “Door action!” catchy.

            Several nights hence, Randy and I found ourselves at the bar shooting the shit with Tracy, one of the waitresses and occasional daytime bartender.  I would really like for her to meet Joanne from Lloyd’s.  The two were so remarkably alike that I was curious whether there would be some kind of cosmic backlash similar to what some nerdy jeremiads would later fear when the Hadron Collider became operative.  

            They were both flaky 50ish year-olds who could not get it out of their heads that they weren’t the hot girls they were 20 years ago.  Both had alcohol problems and the hots for a younger man with a drinking problem:  Namely, me.  They even groped me in the same gorgonizing fashion.  I had grown desensitized to Joanne’s advances, but the first time Tracy felt me up in that manner, it evoked such deja vu that I felt my skin yearn to crawl away.

            I had occasionally partied with her son, Les, who was around my age.  One such evening was probably the only time I will ever hear the exchange, “Let’s go pick up Nana and get her high!”  “Yeah, let’s get Grandma stoned!”  Les would go on to become estranged from his mother, marry the most popular girl in my high school, and become a Navy stud.  Years later, I found myself (unsuccessfully) applying for a waiter position at a bar, amazed when it was Tracy who came out with the application.  “Christ, I can’t get away from this woman,” I realized.

            But that particular night, we found ourselves adjourning to the bar I described above.  We had a good time, and Tracy and I actually hit the dance floor to a classic rock song, one of many that I knew better than most who had actually been alive when the number was recorded.  We tried unsuccessfully to score some weed, but it was too late at that point for me to ring up my trusted source.  I left first, never finding out—nor wanting to—if Randy achieved his stated goal of bedding Tracy.

 

* * *

 

Johnny was Brian and Craig’s youngest half-brother, a blood nephew of Paul.  He was one of the cast members in the kitchen who, when they maintained their cool, were the kinds of co-workers that made work feel less like work.  They served the function for me that Wally and Erin had at Lloyd’s.  Several times they would crack me up so much that, irrespective of how buzzed I may have been that day, I had to take a moment to compose myself before attending to my customers.

            To this day I do not know if they were fucking with me, but Johnny approached me two days later with a question.  “Dude Love, did you and Randy and Tracy really have a threesome?”

            “Yeah, we did.  The whole time we kept saying, ‘Oh God I wish John was here’!”

            “No, Dude, I seriously heard that.”

            “Get the fuck out of here.  We hung out the other night, but just that thought has probably made me impotent for life.”

            “I’m just telling you what I heard.”

            I looked at another cook, Andy, who nodded and testified that he heard it too.  As a state cop-in-training, I trusted him.  However the rumor started, or whether they were just yanking my chain, it became an ongoing joke.  When Randy wasn’t there, Johnny would call out to me, “Hey Tracy-fucker, your steak’s up!”  “Hey Tracy-fucker, how did you guys work that shit out?  I’ve never seen a porn with two guys and a girl.”

            Such ridiculous ribbing required equally absurd retorts.  “Hey Johnny, did you jerk off on that steak for seasoning by thinking about our manage-a-three?”  “I’ll bring in the video of Randy and me tearing up Jessica [his pregnant girlfriend, a waitress there].”

            As for Andy, the aspiring lawman, he was more subtle in his teasing.  I don’t know how much psychological training he underwent, but he provided what I assume is an accurate reenactment of what schizophrenics must experience.   He would sometimes whisper “Tracy-fucker” when I walked by, just audible enough so I’d hear him, yet quiet enough to make me wonder whether I was hearing things.

            Some time after the joke had worn out its humor, I waited on the mother and younger sister of a former classmate who was a distant friend.  I recognized Jeremy’s mom, but I had no recognition of the sister.  She was attractive and personable enough to warrant expression of interest.  She was a waitress herself, and we always have a special bond.  I would have asked her out on the spot, were it not for the presence of Mrs. Bass.

            I don’t know why I lacked the common sense to be a little more direct and ask her her name, so I instead consulted Johnny, who said he couldn’t remember.  As I’ve said already, I will never know whether they were pulling my leg concerning the rumor, but I cannot doubt his earnestness from this point forward.  Friends of our mindset love pranking each other, but I know enough to steer clear of those whose senses of humor are diabolical.  (Will told me that a college roommate had once dosed him in his sleep.  That shit may have been groovy in Wavy Gravy’s day, but I would be horrified to wake up and be told, ‘Guess what?  You’re not taking that midterm today.’”)

            “Hey Dude Love,” he said hours later, “I think her name’s Tracy.  Not positive, but I think that’s it.”

            “Thanks man.  Who knows?  I may get lucky enough to become a ‘Tracy-fucker’ yet.”

            “Good luck, bro.  I hope it works out for you.”

            I remember gleaning that she still lived at home.  Through a little sleuthing, I was able to get her family’s phone number.  I rang up the number and left a message when the machine picked up.  “Uh, hi, this message is for Tracy.  This is Brian Williard from the Dollar.  We met the other day.  I was just calling to see if you wanted to hang out some time.  Give me a call at work here.  The number is [that 555 bullshit one you see in movies].  Or just drop by.  Anyway, maybe I’ll talk to you later.  Have fun, be safe.”

            When I didn’t hear from her within a week, I assumed she was that rare girl who was not only single but uninterested in an educated nearly 30 year-old waiter with no car and no phone.  She must have been one of the few who cared about a potential mate’s future and genetic suitability.

            And then Johnny came up to me with an apologetic manner that even the best actor would struggle to project.  “You’re gonna’ hate me, Dude, but I fucked up big time.”

            Assuming he was talking about an order, I responded with a shoulder shrug and an “Oh well” look.

            “I just remembered last night, Tracy is Jeremy’s brother.  I still can’t remember the sister’s name.  I’m really sorry, man.”

            “Are you shitting me?  Come on now, John.”

            He shook his head.

            “So I just asked out Jeremy’s brother?”

            “If it would make it up to you, I’ll let you fuck Jess when she gets to that gross level of pregnant.  Only thing is,” he was now laughing, “she’d only bang you if she was completely smashed.  And I don’t want my kid coming out like some kind of Bryce.”  (More about Bryce below.)

            So let’s review some of the perceptions, rumors, and jokes that I have endured at some of these restaurants.  At the G-Man, Melissa playfully called me “Scary Man,” while Linda told me her customers often asked if I was a narc.  At The Grill, I was “PG-13,” whose interest in a 17 year-old and pursuit by a 16 year-old hussy led to me being labeled a pedophile.  At Lloyd’s, Carrie considered me a miscreant of some vague degree.  And now, at the Silver Dollar, I was teased as a sexual adventurer with low standards whose former classmate and friend now had reasonable grounds to think I’m gay and have enough pride to proposition his younger brother.

            At least when I was a teacher, the worst that could be said was that I was kind of out there.  I couldn’t complain if they said I slept with a student, since that much was true.

 

* * *

 

I ended up spending more time than I’d like with my neighbor Kim.  Unlike the more unisex “Tracy,” Kim is decidedly more of a girl’s name than a boy’s.  I could empathize with his “A Boy Named Sue” projected toughness.  Had my dad had his way, I would have had it even worse.  He’d wanted to name me “Ginger,” after Cream drummer Ginger Baker (a real crazy SOB).  My mom nixed that, just as my dad vetoed her preference for “Spencer,” overlooking the possibility that he could claim me to be the namesake of Spencer Davis.

 

            Kim was a hellian who was initially wary of me, especially worried that I was some rapist-in-waiting with designs on his girl.  He confided these concerns to Jessie, who hadn’t black-balled me as a friend after the blue ball Suzie situation, when Jessie was waiting for me the one day.  He also just “knew” I was a crackhead or a speed freak because I was always so wound up.  Jessie assured him he had nothing to worry about, and that I was an alcoholic but not into hard drugs.

 

            “Oh yeah,” he recalled adding, “we like to call him ‘Professor Tokes-a-Lot’.”  That must have been good enough for Kim, because he would usually come to share his weed, leading me to believe he was one of those guys who never ran out.

 

            Although a lifelong white male, I have nonetheless encountered various forms of prejudice and bias.  As a kid, my mom’s good friend, who often babysat us, was one of about four black people in our town.  Since she would often drop us off for school and school functions, the rumor started that she was my mom, thus making me a “half-breed.”  This slander—that’s what it amounted to in the playground mentality—was partly based on my dark complexion.  In the wake of 9/11, my pigment and beard inspired many bin Laden and Taliban jokes.

 

            I embraced the ostracism that being a nonconformist skate fag brought, and have been thought by some to be a real fag because I am (usually) a gentleman with girls and women.  Yet I’ve also had girls think I was sexually dangerous, or at least creepy.  Some yahoos even look at tennis as “gay,” as not as manly as football or basketball, sports that very few fans actually play.  I had occasion for a good slam of one peripheral friend who made that claim.  “Phil, I know you’re into wrestling.  Isn’t there something a little queer about those guys grappling with each other in their underwear?”  This kind of pissed him off, mainly because he didn’t have a good comeback.

 

            This tennisim is usually just at the level of, say, a Phillies fan’s knock of a Mets fan, or the kind of trash talk about what team induces another to yell at the TV scream.  On one occasion, it was regarded by an indignant parent as a gateway to something more sinister.  Kim and I were screwing around hitting the ball in our parking lot the one day, two stoners burning off some energy.

 

            A boy of about 10 came by and clearly wanted to play.  I retrieved a seriously retro wooden racket that I had salvaged from someone’s trash, and we incorporated the kid into our fun.  He was kind of annoying, so we wrapped up after about 20 minutes.  Always eager to encourage any athleticism among the youth, I told the kid to keep the racket.

 

            After smoking another bowl, Kim and I were again chilling on our shared porch 20 minutes later.  “Hey there, guys!”

 

            “What’s up?” Kim asked the boy’s father who was holding my gift to him.

 

            “You can take this back.  He doesn’t want it.”

 

            He doesn’t want it?

 

            “Okay.  I mean, it’s an old piece of junk anyway.  Just gave it to him ‘cause he was having fun.”

 

            “Well he’s not into that.  Take it back.”

 

            “Just leave it at the steps then.  I’ll pick it up later.”

 

            “Thank you.”

 

            This asshole didn’t deserve any more words from me.

 

            Kim was perplexed.  “What the fuck was that shit all about?”

 

            “That stupid redneck is either afraid his son is going to get into something other than the foosball, or—”

 

            “Or he thinks we’re some kind of faggy pervs trying to ass-rape his kid.”

 

            I nodded.  “Yeah, like we want to corrupt him into a wicked lifestyle and take him to hell with us.”

 

            “Shit, I may raise hell but I ain’t going there.  I’m saved, brother.”

 

            “More than you know,” I replied, uttering a Unitarian slip.

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            “I mean you don’t even have to worry about it.”

 

            If only Rob had been there, I would have added, “That fatty wasn’t even that cute anyway.”

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